Arnold Clark Cup is now-or-never for England players seeking World Cup spots

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An hour or so after England had won the Euros, the players were still in their match shirts -- goalkeeper Mary Earps was dancing on the table in the press conference room, and the team had only enjoyed a couple of renditions of Celine Dion's "River Deep, Mountain High." But manager Sarina Wiegman was already thinking about the challenges ahead.

As the players later danced and sang with their nearest and dearest at the post-Euros party in the Lensbury, a couple of them started to talk about the World Cup lying in wait just under a year away. After all, they'd just conquered Europe, now for the world. Less than 24 hours after England won the Euros, the team were in Trafalgar Square celebrating in front of a few thousand fans. Wiegman referenced the World Cup there, so did a couple of the players.

You'll hear a lot about this Arnold Clark Cup being the starting point for England's World Cup campaign: with eight games in three days, it's a chance for players to force their way into the squad or play their way out when England opens the tournament against South Korea on Thursday. But the truth of the matter is, if you're looking at mapping out a strategy for a World Cup as a 10-step plan, we're already about seven or eight steps into that timeline. This is a chance to finesse ideas, rather than form them, ahead of England's World Cup opener on July 22.

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The nature of Wiegman's meticulous planning means she likely pencilled in an iteration of a potential World Cup squad when she started her job in September 2021. Over the next fortnight, once the Arnold Clark Cup is over, you can expect roughly 20 of the 23 World Cup places to be confirmed, too.

You can ink some in now: Earps, for starters, along with the likes of Leah Williamson, Fran Kirby, Keira Walsh, Lauren Hemp, Chloe Kelly, Lucy Bronze, Georgia Stanway, Ella Toone, Alessia Russo, Rachel Daly and Millie Bright -- all of them featured at the Euros. There are those who have since forced their way into contention like Lauren James. Then there are those who have retired since last summer like Ellen White and Jill Scott.

There's always room for a surprise -- perhaps forward Katie Robinson -- but regardless, there are some tough decisions around those flip-of-a-coin spots. As Wiegman says, "Nothing is set in stone," though she also wants the team to force her hand in certain spots.

"There are youngsters in the team again who have to prove themselves -- well, everyone has to. Everyone has to show consistency in their performances and it's a big step forward because we play three games."

The frequent theme at Wiegman's squad announcement for the Arnold Clark Cup was the hope these matches against South Korea, Belgium and Italy will give England a chance to figure out, as Wiegman puts it, "more connections and combinations of players in the team." Overall, the four-team tournament may also be a chance for new players to break into picture, and indeed Wiegman should give bubble players a chance to impress and gate-crash the squad.

Earps is England's No. 1, but goalkeepers Emily Ramsey and Sandy MacIver can establish themselves in the player pool with Ramsey looking to make her debut and MacIver's sole cap coming back in 2021. Maya Le Tissier is playing her way into World Cup contention with her impressive form in the Women's Super League, plus her debut in November 2022 against Norway.

Manchester City's Laura Coombs is back in the mix in central midfield, with Wiegman impressed by her "consistency" and how she can play both a "little higher and deeper and I think we need more of that to balance our midfield." Up front, Jess Park and Robinson will hope to force their hand having both made debuts at the end of last year.

But for every Coombs or Robinson, there's more established internationals like Lucy Staniforth and Beth England who have been left out. They all made moves in January, with Staniforth going to Aston Villa and England breaking records to join Tottenham -- all with a view to increasing their game time.

"They are competing for selection," Wiegman said. "We can see now where they are at and how they're improving. Then we look at what their competitors do and make a choice. It's good, they get minutes and it makes their position better but it doesn't guarantee they will be selected. They have to compete with the other ones too."

Then there's the injury curveball. Kirby was forced to withdraw from selection over the weekend after she picked up a knee knock in Chelsea's win at West Ham on Thursday. Jordan Nobbs, who also moved to Aston Villa in January, was named in her place and capped the recall with a hat-trick in Villa's 6-2 win at Brighton on Sunday.

There's going to be an intriguing edge to training at St George's Park as fringe players will be aware they have to force their way into the squad. "Everyone wants to show their best games," Wiegman said. "It's good to have some more players in our environment to prepare as good as possible. We want to get as much information as possible, on pitch, off pitch, to get as good a picture as possible.

"We follow them all the time at their clubs. When you have them in your environment, you see them some more and can have some chats. After the April camp, we have to make final decisions and the more information you have about the players, the more you know, the better decisions we can make."

England won the Arnold Clark Cup last year after draws against Canada and Spain and a 3-1 win against Germany. That victory over Germany proved to be a valuable win on several levels: It obviously secured the trophy, but also allowed Wiegman a chance to see the players against a top-level country and gave the team belief.

This year -- with the greatest of respect -- the opponents are a touch more straightforward, and Wiegman will take the opportunity to test the depth of her squad and use it as a dry-run for the World Cup, which starts for England on July 22 in Brisbane.

"It's similar to what we have at the World Cup," she said. "I'm really happy with South Korea as it's an Asian country and we play China at the World Cup. They play a little differently so that's good for us to adapt to.

"Italy have grown very much over the last couple of years. A tough opponent who have changed their style of play too; they keep improving. Belgium just missed out on the World Cup but what they showed at the Euros they are a tough, physical opponent who want to play football. I think it will be challenging games that will help us get our preparation right."

There's a line drawn in the sand, but Wiegman knows the expectation around this group after their history-making summer.

"The pressure was already [there] before [we became] European champions," Wiegman said. "I knew we were good, really good, but we had never won the tournament before. So I think pressure keeps going. We have to bring it back, we want to perform at our highest level too."

Those memories of the celebrations in the Lensbury will be just that. This group, with Leah Williamson returning as captain, will need to press the reset button as they target the biggest prize in the sport. But Wiegman will be looking to this tournament to cement and tweak plans, rather than draft them.

"The players who were at the Euros and who won it will always cherish it, but the world after the Euros changed a little bit, maybe a little bit more than a little bit. We have to adapt to that new situation. We know we can do better, we're not yet at our top level. This is a step forward again to show and to improve our style of play and again and to get more information on the players."